Gov. Andy Beshear proved during his time as attorney general, with his rulings favorable to newspapers on open records laws, and now as governor of Kentucky that he is a friend to our industry.
Just last week, Beshear vetoed House Bill 195, which would have taken legal notices out of newspapers in counties with populations over 80,000 and let local governments in those counties post them on their websites instead. The bill was passed by a majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate. Democrats, to their credit, deserve praise in this matter, as the majority of them voted against this horrible piece of legislation.
In his veto message, Beshear made some very valid points as to why this horrible legislation needed to be vetoed. He cited how the provisions of the law would impede the public’s ability to receive the complete information of a local government’s actions and proposed actions, and further harm newspapers by removing the requirement that the advertisements be published in a newspaper. In addition, he said the bill wouldn’t actually result in great savings to local governments across the commonwealth.
Beshear also noted in his veto the existing disparity of internet access in Kentucky, meaning the bill allowing internet-only publication would negatively affect the ability of citizens to receive complete notice and information about a local government’s actions.
We are extremely proud to have a governor who recognizes the need of all of our citizens to have full access to these legal notices. The same can’t be said of the majority of the Republicans in the House and Senate who voted for HB 195.
This was a complete power grab on their part against the state’s two largest newspapers, which are often the target of conservative disdain because of their liberal editorial pages. While we rarely agree with those newspapers’ editorial pages, we are all in this industry together and we stand by those newspapers when it comes to fighting against HB 195 and other bills that take jabs at newspapers. What many Republicans failed to consider in passing HB 195 is that many newspapers — some even in towns these Republicans represent — could be affected if this becomes law despite having conservative-leaning editorial pages.
Through their self-righteous votes, they deliberately sought to cut off revenue some newspapers need to continue operating. Beshear was also right when he stated in his veto message that local government entities that would post these notices online would be saving just a little money, not the large amounts claimed by those who lobbied against newspapers in this bill.
Beshear made some good points when he talked about the disparity of internet access in our state. About 20% of our state’s population do not have internet access. How are they going to find these legal notices without them being printed in their hometown newspapers?
That’s something the Republicans who voted for HB 195 didn’t think about or care about.
If legal notices are taken over by local governments, they will be left to decide for themselves what to publish, when to publish it and how to publish it. It would be easy for someone with bad intent to tuck away a notice on a website where it couldn’t be easily found.
Would this be fair to a large number of Kentucky citizens who want to see legal notices? Obviously not.
This is another very important reason why newspapers should continue publishing legal notices, for transparency’s sake.
Apparently undeterred by Beshear’s veto, however, the Republican-controlled General Assembly is charging ahead with its anti-newspaper crusade. News came Wednesday that while legislators will not attempt to override Beshear’s veto, they would instead amend another bill in order to achieve essentially the same result that HB 195 would have produced.
An altered HB 351 will now recycle a law from 2018 that released governments in counties of 90,000 or more from the requirement of publishing public notices in newspapers. It would also add a new wrinkle — all public notices in any newspaper in the state must include a sentence detailing the exact amount in taxpayer money that was spent on the advertisement.
From the standpoint of transparency in government, we of course have no objection to listing the cost of the ad. But we doubt that was the legislators’ real motivation. Instead, this provision strikes us as an attempt to shame newspaper owners for the simple act of charging for advertising space in their publications, as well as to drum up public sentiment against using taxpayer money to provide greater access to public information. Both ideas, of course, are odious.
Since HB 351 is part of the broader budget package, we don’t anticipate Beshear’s veto pen this time. Still, we are grateful for the message the governor sent in vetoing HB 195, when he recognized the importance of transparency and the important role newspapers play in the communities they serve.